This Week in History

The Conquest of Los Angeles:

January 8, 1847

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Commodore Stockton

Commodore Stockton was determined to retake Los Angeles, but he did not go there immediately; instead, he sailed to San Diego. Once in San Diego, Stockton learned that a U.S. Army officer, General Stephen W. Kearny, had come to California. Kearny had set out for California in late June from Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. On the way, he conquered New Mexico without fighting any battles. From Santa Fé in New Mexico, he set out for California with 300 men. Hearing along the way that Stockton had conquered California, Kearny sent many of these men back to Santa Fe. He continued on to California with only about 120 men.

            When Stockton learned that Kearny was not far from San Diego, he sent Gillespie and about 50 men to him. Gillespie informed Kearny that a force of Californios under Andrés Pico (Pío Pico’s brother) was camping in San Pasqual valley, only about six miles away. Though his troops were exhausted, Kearny decided to attack the Californios the very next day.

            In the early morning of December 6, 1846, Kearny’s force climbed over a ridge into San Pasqual valley. Below them they could see fires burning in the Californios’ camp. It was a very cold morning. The Californios had learned that the Americans were near and had saddled their horses to prepare for battle.

The Battle of San Pasqual

            The first Americans to confront Pico and his Californios were 12 men commanded by Captain A.R. Johnston. Misunderstanding a command given by Kearny, Johnston ordered his men to charge Pico’s men. The Californios opened fire on the Americans, killing Johnston.

            Now as more Americans arrived, the Californios, mounted on good horses, turned and rode off as if they were fleeing. The Americans followed. When the Californios got far enough ahead, Pico ordered them to turn and charge their enemy. With their long lances, the Californios drove the Americans back. About 15 Americans were wounded in this short, 15-minute battle, and 21 were killed. About 15 Californios were wounded, while only one was killed. Kearny himself was wounded, and he led his men to a nearby hill. The Californios surrounded the American camp. They only withdrew when new troops sent by Stockton arrived from San Diego.

            The Battle of San Pasqual was the last battle the Californios won. Though they had fought well, they really could not keep beating the American forces. The Americans had more guns, and better guns, and they had artillery. The Californios were some of the best horsemen alive; but they had few guns, and their guns were old. They could not possibly win a war using lances.

Los Angeles in 1848

            It was not long before Stockton and Kearny gathered their forces and began to march from San Diego to Los Angeles. Frémont too was on his way from Monterey with about 300 men. On January 8, 1847, Stockton and Kearny fought José María Flores at the ford of the San Gabriel River. The Californios could not agree with one another, and they had poor gun powder. They ended up retreating while the Americans crossed the river. The next day, after a short fight, the Californios again retreated. On January 10, 1847, Los Angeles surrendered to Stockton and Kearny.

            This was not, however, the end of the war. The Americans had not yet defeated Andrés Pico and his force of Californios. Pico had been trying to stop Frémont, who was marching against Los Angeles from Santa Barbara. But with Los Angeles in American hands, Pico realized that he could not defeat the Americans. He surrendered to Frémont and on January 13 signed a peace treaty with him at the Cahuenga Rancho at Cahuenga Pass, not far from Los Angeles. The Treaty of Cahuenga ended the war in California.


Los Californios

A segment of a documentary on San Diego, focused on the Mexican period of California history.